David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


“The two biggest changes he made to his mix were radical but effective.“

One Way to Get Excited About Nathan Eovaldi

by Eno Sarris - December 19, 2014

There are plenty of ways to poo-poo Nathan Eovaldi. Dude has thrown 300 changeups and they’ve been bad, for the most part. Dude has gas, but his four-seamer gets only gets average whiffs. Dude’s thrown almost 500 innings and been league average. Dude’s done this in pitcher-friendly parks and leagues and now is headed to Yankee Stadium. Dude.

There’s at least one way to get excited about Eovaldi. By arsenal shape, speed, and peripheral results, he’s pretty much Garrett Richards.

First, it is true that Eovaldi doesn’t have a good changeup. He should probably just stop throwing it. If you look at different classification systems, he’s thrown anywhere from 150 to 300 changeups in his career, and averaged around a 8% whiff rate. Theaverage whiff rate on a change is 13%.

The reason those systems have a hard time identifying his change is that it’s very close in movement to his sinker. At Brooks Baseball, his change has the same horizontal movement as his sinker, just over an inch more drop than his sinker, and eight mph difference in velocity. Those don’t really satisfy the conditions for a good changeup.

Maybe he should turf it. It worked for Richards. And before you say they’re really different pitchers, maybe we should look at the shape, velocity, and whiff rates on their pitches. It’s a bit eye-opening:

Eovaldi

Usage

Velocity

Horizontal

Vertical

Whiff%

Four-Seam

58%

95.1

-6.5

7.5

6.4%

Sinker

7%

95.6

-9.6

7.6

4.7%

Slider

22%

86.0

2.3

1.0

14.6%

Curveball

9%

75.8

5.4

-7.8

7.5%

 

Richards

Usage

Velocity

Horizontal

Vertical

Whiff%

Four-Seam

41%

95.4

-2.7

6.7

7.0%

Sinker

15%

95.5

-7.7

5.9

8.0%

Slider

28%

86.1

2.3

-4.4

16.8%

Curveball

4%

78.1

5.3

-12.5

10.1%

So maybe Richards’ slider is a little better than Eovaldi’s. It has more movement and has shown a bitter whiff rate so far. And his curve is bigger than Eovaldi’s and has also had better results. But Eovaldi’s fastball actually has a bit more horizontal movement than Richards’, especially when it comes to the sinker.

Zoom out a bit, and you’ve got more similarities than differences. Both are big fastball guys with two good breaking pitches. Both have bad changepieces. Both have had some issues with command, both showed good command more recently.

If you agree that they are at least somewhat alike, let’s move on. How did Richards get over the hump and become the Richards that he was last year?

 

The two biggest changes he made to his mix were radical but effective. Richards turfed the change and upped his slider usage to near 40% by the end of the year. From an outcome standpoint, it made a ton of sense. His changeup wasn’t getting whiffs, and his slider was. With the curve, he had a weapon against lefties.

Richards does throw the sinker more than Eovaldi, so the new Yankee may want to look at his fastball usage. There might be something there. He may also want to turf the changeup, it’s not working anyway. Eovaldi’s curve has better results by whiffs against lefties than righties anyway (12% to 8%), so it’s effective as a platoon-buster.

Should Eovaldi push his slider usage as far as Richards did? By the end of the season, the Angel was throwing the pitch more than a third of the time. That’s harder to recommend — his strikeout rate went down in the second half, and the result was mostly seen (if they were) in his ground-ball rate and walk rates, which improved. The ball rate on Richards’ slider is better than Eovaldi’s, so maybe Eovaldi can’t command the slider as much as the Angel starter can.

Richards has always had better overall whiff rates than Eovaldi, so maybe those differences in breaking pitches are very important here. But it might be equally important to note that turfing a bad pitch can be as useful as improving it. IfNathan Eovaldi‘s changeup isn’t getting good results, why keep throwing it? There’s a good chance he’ll be better without it, if Garrett Richards‘ history is to be believed.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/one-way-to-get-excited-about-nathan-eovaldi/

 

 

 

“what it was like to be traded”

 

What it's like to be part of a blockbuster trade: From Tyrell Jenkins' point of view

By Joe Schwarz  @stlCupofJoe on Dec 19 2014

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be involved in a blockbuster trade? Well, now you'll know.

With the tragic passing of Oscar Taveras on October 26th, 2014, General Manager John Mozeliak was put to the unfortunate task of finding an immediate "replacement" capable of playing right field for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015. Just over three weeks later, Mozeliak found a willing trade partner in the Atlanta Braves—acquiring Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden in exchange for Shelby Miller and pitching Tyrell Jenkins.

As you likely already know, Jenkins was one of my favorite prospects in the organization because I maintained high hopes for the refinement of his raw, but electric stuff, especially his two-seamer and breaking ball. Plus, he was always generous with his time and made himself available to questions whenever I had them. Well, he may be in the Braves organization now, but, if you're like me, you've always wondered what it was like to be traded. The fact that he was involved in a blockbuster deal such as this one, I just had to ask (after letting ample time pass of course), and as usual, he obliged and was actually quite candid with his responses.

On whether he had any idea there was a possibility of him being traded while competing in the Arizona Fall League:

"Nothing at all triggered me into thinking I'd get traded. I figured I for sure had a 40-man spot locked up with the Birds. Nothing hit until I didn't pitch in the [AFL] championship game. I was wondering why I didn't throw, and it hit me that next morning that I might be on the trading block."

I will have to say, despite a constant barrage of "news" on Twitter, rumors of this trade were pretty much nonexistent leading up to the news breaking. With some players learning of trades via social media these days, I'm curious, how did you find out?

"[Cardinals farm director] Gary LaRocque called me that morning around 8 and told me they were happy and impressed with my year. There was a trade, and I was involved in it. I was going to the Atlanta Braves. I also got a call from Mike Matheny that morning telling me how [baseball] is a business and how he wished me the best."

Being dealt by the team that drafted you obviously isn't "fun," but it was at least reassuring to know that you were included as a valuable piece in a trade for a player as good as Heyward, right?

"You are right. At first, I was kind of down because I was being traded from the team who gave me a chance in the first place. Once I talked to my agent and realized who it was for [Heyward], I was super ecstatic!"

On if his opinion of the Cardinals has changed at all:

"Nothing's really changed besides I'm with the Atlanta Braves. The Cardinals are a great organization with plenty of brilliant history. They definitely do things the right way. I felt loved when so many guys and coaches reached out to me to express how I would be missed. I'm so blessed to have been drafted by St. Louis, but now I'm ready for the next chapter in my career."

When asked about who with the Braves contacted him the day of the trade:

"That first day, everyone from the front office to the big league management staff reached out to me. It was pretty awesome to hear how excited were to have gotten me. I knew a few guys in that organization from the fall league, and they were just elated to hear I was joining them next year! I went about that day as normal as possible, but my phone was going nuts all day. Now, I'm just pumped to get read for Spring Training in Orlando."

I am extremely grateful for the time Tyrell took to discuss his personal experience with the trade. He may no longer be in the Cardinals organization, but I absolutely wish him the best, unless, of course, he's facing off against St. Louis in the NLCS down the road.

http://www.vivaelbirdos.com/st-louis-cardinals-sabermetrics-analysis/2014/12/19/7420009/blockbuster-trade-from-tyrell-jenkins-cardinals-braves-jason-heyward

 

“someone has come out of nowhere to provide unexpected production”

Trying to Explain Steve Pearce

We keep trying to explain the Baltimore Orioles. After all, they’re destroying the American League East, up by 12.5 games at the moment over the Blue Jays. They’re likely to clinch it in the next 24-48 hours, and when the playoffs roll around, they’ll be the No. 2 seed, kicking off an ALDS at home against either Detroit or Kansas City, depending on which of the two win the AL Central. They’re doing this despite a list of things that have gone wrong this year, most of which I laid out here in July, and that was before Manny Machado injured his knee and Chris Davis gotsuspended. Dave Cameron made a very thorough case for the simplicity ofaccepting randomness, and August Fagerstrom looked into how much powerthe lineup has had, largely thanks to Nelson Cruz.

It’s all of those things, and it’s none of them. It’s the managerial genius of Buck Showalter, if you want it to be, and it’s also the unquantifiable magic of balls bouncing the right way. It’s Dan Duquette playing with never-ending roster moves, or it’s outstanding (and generally random) performance in clutch situations, or it’s defense that hasn’t had a single weak spot. We can argue about whether the Orioles are a good team that has had enough things go their way in the right spots to look like a great one, or if they are actually that great team and we’ve just been so wrong about them, but in the end it doesn’t matter so much. The wins are banked, and they’re headed to the playoffs, and if that sounds insane knowing that they won’t have Davis, Machado or Matt Wieters, you’re not alone.

Sometimes, though, it’s not so complicated. Sometimes there’s a Steve Pearce.

* * *

You have to figure that on a team that’s outplaying even the most optimistic projections, someone has come out of nowhere to provide unexpected production, and on this team, that someone is Steve Pearce. He’s 31 years old, and prior to 2014 he had 847 below-average major league plate appearances for the Pirates, Orioles, Yankees and Astros. Entering the year, his career had been worth 0.2 WAR. Exiting this year, his career will be worth something like 5 WAR, because here’s the Orioles’ offensive WAR leaders:

1) Adam Jones, 5.4
2) Pearce, 4.6

It’s not just us, either. Baseball-Reference has him at 5.5 WAR. Baseball Prospectus says 4.1. Obviously, there’s some variation there, but no one disagrees that he’s been at the very least a four-win player this year. A career of 0.2 WAR in parts of seven seasons for four teams is basically the definition of replacement-level, and few players embody that term as much as Pearce has, because easily my favorite thing about him is his transaction log, which we’ll borrow from Baseball-Reference:

  • June 7, 2005: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 8th round of the 2005 amateur draft. Player signed June 11, 2005.
  • November 3, 2011: Granted Free Agency.
  • December 15, 2011: Signed as a Free Agent with the Minnesota Twins.
  • March 27, 2012: Released by the Minnesota Twins.
  • March 29, 2012: Signed as a Free Agent with the New York Yankees.
  • June 2, 2012: Purchased by the Baltimore Orioles from the New York Yankees.
  • July 28, 2012: Selected off waivers by the Houston Astros from the Baltimore Orioles.
  • August 27, 2012: Purchased by the New York Yankees from the Houston Astros.
  • September 29, 2012: Selected off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles from the New York Yankees.
  • April 27, 2014: Released by the Baltimore Orioles.
  • April 29, 2014: Signed as a Free Agent with the Baltimore Orioles.

Twice, he was released, including earlier this very season. Twice, he’s been purchased. Twice, he was picked up on waivers. If you just look at his 2012 alone, he went from the Twins to the Yankees to Orioles to the Astros to the Yankees to the Orioles. That’s six stints on four teams in six months, and if you count the break in April of this year as a dividing point — he was, after all, claimed by the Blue Jays, which isn’t reflected here, and was briefly a free agent after rejecting the claim — this is his third different time with the Orioles.

So how do we explain Pearce? It’s true that he was the Pirates’ 2007 Minor League Player of the Year; it’s also true that we referred to him in FG+ 2010 as “basically aChris Shelton clone” and in FG+ 2012 with “if absolutely positively everything goes right, Steve Pearce could be Ty Wigginton.” It’s easiest to say that he’s a small sample size success story, and there’s certainly some truth to that, but it’s also not particularly satisfying, because there’s never been anyone exactly like him.

No, really. Let’s try this: Pearce is having a four-win season in his age-31 year. That’s not really unique. Four other hitters, all stars, are doing the same thing this year. Since Jackie Robinson integrated in 1947, 177 other players have had a four-win age-31 season. Literally every single one of them had been more valuable than Pearce through age 30, in most cases considerably so.

WAR through Age 30, all hitters with 4+ WAR Age-31 season

 

Name

PA

wOBA

wRC+

WAR

1

Alex Rodriguez

7774

0.406

145

81.2

2

Albert Pujols

6782

0.435

169

78.4

3

Ted Williams

5348

0.508

192

77.0

 —

——

176

Mark McLemore

2879

0.298

78

3.6

177

Bill Spiers

2196

0.293

79

1.1

178

Steve Pearce

847

0.307

87

0.2

Even Spiers, the only one even close, had enjoyed a productive season, putting up a 2.3 WAR age-25 in 1991 that he slowly frittered away with below-average years until his unexpected 4.4 WAR age-31 1997.

Pearce put up some nice numbers in the minors, and he had also dealt with his fair share of injuries, missing most of 2010 with a left knee injury, much of 2011 with injuries to his right calf and right fingers, and about two months worth of 2013 with left wrist woes. In between, he looked to be the stereotypical Quad-A guy, pounding minor league pitching and very rarely doing anything of note in the bigs. There’s a million different guys who fit that description. Few of them ever work out.

A reasonable explanation would be that Pearce, long thought of as a platoon player — understandably so, with a career 134/91 L/R wRC+ split — had simply finally landed in a place where he would be allowed to exploit his strengths and avoid his weaknesses. Far from it, though: Pearce has 253 plate appearances against righty pitchers this year, and just 104 against lefties, and while we are of course talking about smaller samples, he’s been able to hit both.

We know this, at least: Pearce has changed his batting stance. It’s not the first time he’s played with his mechanics, either, because back in 2011, there was talk of him eliminating his leg kick, while he was still with the Pirates. Now, he’s changed the way he approaches the pitcher. The below GIF has two images, one from his first home start with the Orioles back in 2012. The second is from two weeks ago. The difference is easy to see.

  

2012 Pearce stood up very stiff and straight, with his arms away from him. 2014 Pearce is a bit more relaxed, with his front foot much more closed than it had been.

In June, Pearce explained why, saying that it was an experiment that had allowed him to “see the ball longer”:

If that’s true, it’s showing up in how he’s produced against fastballs. 223 playershave at least 350 plate appearances this year. Rank them by wFB/C, and you’ll see some pretty impressive names. You’ll also see Pearce, and the two other big unexpected breakouts of the season.

1) Troy Tulowitzki, 3.73
2) Pearce, 3.09
3) Jose Abreu, 2.67
4) Andrew McCutchen, 2.31
5) J.D. Martinez, 2.23
6) Paul Goldschmidt, 2.22
7) Nelson Cruz, 2.18
8) Colby Rasmus, 2.15
9) Josh Harrison, 2.12
10) Matt Kemp, 2.02

Pearce isn’t striking out more or less than he ever did before, nailing his career averages almost to the decimal point in 2014. He’s just hitting the ball a whole lot harder than he ever had before, while still doing what he’s done his entire career, which is to say that all 34 home runs he’s hit in the big leagues have gone to the same direction:

 

It’s still more likely than not that this is a few hundred plate appearances of excellently-timed production from a Quad-A guy who will never be able to repeat that performance. But for the Orioles, who turned a basically-free acquisition into more than a few wins this year, they don’t have to care what he does in 2015 or beyond. There’s no risk for them if he falls apart, and there’s at least something to try to put into “minor leaguer with some skill finally gets healthy, a chance to play, and a seemingly-useful change in mechanics.” It’s happened before — see Jose Bautista, Martinez, etc. — just not that often, and not usually to this extent. It’s at least somewhat about BABIP, but not excessively so, and he’s added some value on the bases and in the field as well.

With Davis suspended and Machado injured, the Baltimore infield going into the playoffs looks like Pearce, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy and Kelly Johnson, orJimmy Paredes. That’s an infield, honestly, that looks like it should be in place on a 73-win team. There’s three different Yankees castoffs in there; or, put another way, there’s two different Astros castoffs in there. It’s not a roster that looks like it should be in contention, much less on pace for 96 wins. Then again, we’ve thought that about the Orioles for a while, and look what’s happened. There’s randomness here, to be sure. There’s also a guy like Pearce, maybe making a career where before there had been none.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/trying-to-explain-steve-pearce/

 

'We have to have somebody who can come in and do this.' 

 

 December 17, 12:09 PM ET
Paying an arm and a leg for relief


By Jerry Crasnick ESPN.com

As major league teams rained money on the heads of free-agent relief pitchers earlier this month, it was only natural to question the wisdom (if not the sanity) of baseball executives throwing so much cash at pitchers who contribute in increments of three outs or fewer.

Skeptics abound. But few of them have experienced the demoralizing sensation of looking on helplessly while a bad bullpen sinks spirits in the clubhouse and undermines a team's season.

Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura is familiar with that routine from the 2014 season, when the team's pen ranked 14th in the American League with a 4.38 ERA and blew 21 saves -- tied for third most in the league. So when general manager Rick Hahn spent $46 million on a four-year contract for closer David Robertson and $15 million on a three-year deal for lefty setup man Zach Duke, Ventura was in no position to lobby for fiscal restraint.

"In the last couple of years we've lost a lot of games late in the eighth and ninth inning," Ventura said. "After a while you sit there and think, 'We have to have somebody who can come in and do this.' Everything has its risks -- and this is one of them -- but we're pretty confident we got a guy [in Robertson] who we can put in the bullpen and be a leader."

Amid highly-publicized deals for Jon LesterPablo SandovalHanley Ramirez and other top free agents, relievers have quietly cashed lottery tickets this offseason. Andrew Miller, who has one career save (and 490 strikeouts in 492 2/3 MLB innings), signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees and will go to spring training as an ace setup man and potential closer competition to Dellin Betances. The Astros, baseball's quintessential new-age thinkers, spent a guaranteed $31 million on multiyear deals for Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. That left Sergio RomoJason Grilli and others as the next in line to try to board the gravy train.

The big expenditures fly in the face of the conventional wisdom that says reliever performance can vary widely from one season to the next and teams have better, more productive ways to allocate their money than on pitchers who'll contribute 60-70 innings a year. Monster deals for closers were in vogue 8-10 years ago when Toronto spent $47 million on B.J. Ryan and Cincinnati shelled out $46 million for Francisco Cordero, but contracts of that magnitude have become less fashionable in recent years with the exception of a Mariano Rivera here and a Jonathan Papelbon there.

Why the windfall for relievers? It's natural to suspect a bit of a copycat mentality after the Kansas City Royals won the AL pennant with a Nasty Boys redux combination ofKelvin HerreraWade Davis and Greg Holland at the back end, and San Francisco thrived as usual with a deep bullpen orchestrated by the maestro, manager Bruce Bochy. But it's a stretch to think everybody suddenly got religion because of the success of the two World Series teams.

The answer might ultimately come down to this: Teams have a lot of money to spend with baseball's revenues at $9 billion, and relievers benefited from the concept of supply and demand this winter.

"Obviously, the Giants have a very good bullpen, and the Royals had a dominant bullpen," Hahn said. "Those are the freshest images in our mind. But I don't think the performance of those two clubs has changed how any of the 30 clubs approach their roster-building. We all want that type of bullpen. You just happened to see on display [in the World Series] how beneficial it can be."

For many clubs with contender aspirations, it's about the comfort level that proven commodities bring. For every Craig Kimbrel or Greg Holland who slides into the closer's job with relatively little big league experience, there's a corresponding Bruce Rondon who keeps getting injured in Detroit or an Addison Reed who looks wobbly in the transition as Arizona's resident ninth-inning guy.

Hold that lead

Luke Gregerson has only 19 big league saves, but he parlayed an impressive track record for "holds" into a three-year, $18.5 million guaranteed contract with the Houston Astros. Here are baseball's career leaders in holds since the stat's inception in 1986:

Pitcher

Holds

MLB seasons

Arthur Rhodes

231

20

Matt Thornton

188

11

LaTroy Hawkins

177

20

Scott Downs

174

13

Kyle Farnsworth

171

15

Chad Qualls

161

11

Alan Embree

157

16

Bobby Howry

157

13

J.C. Romero

157

14

Scott Linebrink

155

12

Joel Peralta

155

10

Scot Shields

155

10

Luke Gregerson

154

6

Joaquin Benoit

152

13

Tyler Clippard

150

8

Source: TOC Sports Management

Robertson showed his ability to handle life under a microscope and the rigors of the AL East with 39 saves and a 1.06 WHIP as Mariano Rivera's successor in New York last season. His 92.6 mph fastball velocity is pedestrian by closer's standards, but he still struck out 13.4 batters per nine innings while relying on his cutter and knuckle curve. Robertson's command and resourcefulness are good enough that the White Sox think he'll continue to thrive even if his fastball dips by a mile per hour or two over the life of his new contract.

Miller falls more in the "overpowering" end of the spectrum with his 94-95 mph fastball, wipeout slider and rangy 6-foot-7 frame. Before the free-agent courtship process, his agent, Mark Rodgers, assembled a 20-page booklet chock-full of nuggets attesting to his dominance. Among other things, potential suitors learned that Miller and Kimbrel were the only two MLB pitchers to allow a sub-.475 OPS against both lefty and righty hitters in 2014.

Gregerson's representative, Tom O'Connell, pitched teams on his client's durability and track record of consistent performance. Gregerson has a career 2.75 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, and he leads MLB relievers with 435 appearances since 2009 even though he ostensibly puts strain on his arm by throwing his slider more than 50 percent of the time on average.

The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Giants, Rockies, Cubs and White Sox all expressed varying degrees of interest in Gregerson before he signed with Houston. He is guaranteed $18.5 million over three years and can increase his compensation to $21 million if he's the Astros' primary closer. Gregerson and Robertson each earned $5 million-plus in their fifth year of service time before filing for free agency, so it's not as if they were paupers before this winter. O'Connell attributes the big financial leap for Robertson, Miller, Gregerson and Neshek this offseason to talents that were recognized and appreciated within the industry even if they're not all widely known.

"It was kind of a perfect storm," O'Connell said. "You're talking about several guys with swing-and-miss stuff who are very good at preserving leads. I'm not surprised at all [by their contracts]."

When teams take the plunge into hardcore bullpen-building, they assess the potential fallout beyond the positive impact on a manager's blood pressure. The White Sox were mindful that Jose Quintana, their projected No. 3 starter behind Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija, is a career 24-24 with a 3.50 ERA in three big league seasons. Quintana leads the majors with 39 no-decisions since 2012, and he holds the White Sox's franchise record with seven career starts of seven shutout innings resulting in a no-decision.

"With as many no-decisions as this guy has had, at some point it's going to break him down to where he loses that will to fight," Ventura said. "He wants a W in his column, and so do I. We want to give him the ability to go out and be able to hand the ball off and feel confident that he's going to get a win."

Time and attrition will tell if the White Sox, Astros and Yankees made prudent moves with their new investments or took a leap of faith they'll eventually regret. Late-inning peace of mind rarely comes cheap these days in baseball.

http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/12038434/white-sox-astros-yankees-add-high-priced-bullpen-pieces

 

"But what is the baseline for velocity loss over the course of a start."

 

Burch Smith and the Problem of Holding Velocity

by Carson Cistulli - December 18, 2014

Right-hander Burch Smith has been traded from San Diego to Tampa Bay. “Will he start or not?” is a question a person might reasonably ask about that. What follows is an attempt to answer the question — in part, if not in whole. 

At some point during during April or May of 2013, after the latter had produced some conspicuously excellent numbers with Double-A San Antonio, the present author developed a fascination with then-Padres right-hander Burch Smith — including that pitcher, for example, in multiple editions of the Fringe Five.

When Smith was finally promoted to the Padres, it was not unlike Christmas on May 11th. And even after Smith conceded six runs over a single inning in his debut, I remained curiously enamored of him.

Smith’s first three major-league starts didn’t weren’t a total disaster. He struck out exactly 25% of the batters he faced, for example, which is a very strong figure for a starting pitcher. He also threw this changeup once to Denard Span, which pitch offers quite a bit in the way of aesthetic pleasure, if nothing else:

  

Ultimately, though, Smith was unable to prevent runs. He allowed 15 of them (all earned) in just 7.1 innings over those first three starts and was demoted to Triple-A Reno before he could make a fourth.

There were likely a number of problems with Smith’s first three appearances, but at least one of them is illustrated by the three images below.

First this:

  

And then this:

  

And, finally, this:

 

Those are Smith’s velocity charts (care of Brooks Baseball) from the aforementioned starts — and what each illustrates is that, after touching 96-98 mph over the first 20 or 30 pitches of each appearance, Smith was descending more into the 92-ish range. In the one start of the three during which he recorded an out after the first inning, on May 17th, Smith was having difficulty reaching even 92 mph.

This was a problem: the enthusiasm regarding Smith’s minor-league success was founded in no small part on multiple reports which suggested that he was touching 98 mph. Anecdotally speaking, a pitcher who’s touching 98 mph ought to be sitting more comfortably in the 93- or 94-96 mph range. Which, Smith was doing that, but only for two or three innings’ worth of batters.

So, Smith’s inability to hold his velocity over those early starts seemed like a problem and also seemed to be more pronounced than for other pitchers. But what is the baseline for velocity loss over the course of a start?

Surprisingly, for how widely accepted the notion is that pitchers do lose velocity over the course of a start, there’s hardly any extant research or even documentation of the phenomenon. Probably the best work on the matter, though — brought to my attention by FanGraphs’ Jeff Zimmerman — was written by Jeremy Greenhouse for Baseball Prospectus in May of 2011.

Greenhouse found that, among a sample of major-league starting pitchers, that, while it was common to lose velocity over the course of a start, the average starter lost less than 0.5 mph over even 100 pitches.

Regard, a graph illustrating all that information:

 

Only four pitchers in Greenhouse’s sample lost as much as 2 mph over the course of 100 pitches: Tommy Hunter (-2.0), Zach Duke (-2.2), Rick Porcello (-2.5), andJonathan Sanchez (-2.7). It’s perhaps unsurprising to find that two of that group have moved to the bullpen, while a third (Sanchez) has had considerable difficulties since Greenhouse published his piece.

Courtesy Greenhouse, here’s a graph of Sanchez’s fastball velocity plotted against pitch count:

 

As Greenhouse notes, Sanchez represents essentially the worst-case scenario in terms of lost velocity over the course of a start. Keeping that in mind, regard the following table, which features the average velocity over ten-pitch intervals for Burch Smith during his seven career major-league starts (i.e. the aforementioned three May starts from 2013 and then four additional ones from September of that year):

Pitch

Velo

1-10

94.3

11-20

94.1

21-30

93.0

31-40

92.1

41-50

92.5

51-60

92.5

61-70

92.4

71-80

91.7

81-90

91.2

91-100

92.3

101-110

91.5

And the attendant, hastily made graph:

 

As the above data illustrate, Smith has lost nearly 3 mph on his average fastball velocity between his 1st and 100th pitches. Which is to say, pretty similar to the amount lost by Jonathan Sanchez, according to Greenhouse’s study. Jonathan Sanchez, that is, who represented the worst-case scenario for velocity loss over the course of a start.

The Rays, who employ a collection of people who are smarter and better than me, are likely aware of the challenges facing Smith. They’ve either identified possible solutions to Smith’s loss of velocity, or otherwise are content allowing Smith to work at 94-96 mph as a reliever. If Smith pitches in starting capacity for the Rays, however, and also exhibits the ability to maintain his velocity over a 100-plus pitches, that will be a development — at least so far as his major-league resume is concerned.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/burch-smith-and-the-problem-of-holding-velocity/